The Albino White Barred Owl of Hunter's Park

OK, this owl really isn't an albino, since it doesn't have pink or red eyes, but until I heard Laura Erickson's For the Birds radio program on February 28, 2005, I didn't know what else to call it! Here's what Laura had to say after looking at the photos of this special owl:

Although the bird appears almost pure white from a distance, the eye color and the washed-out plumage make it not an albino, but what ornithologists call a leucistic bird. Leucism can be caused by genetics, when a bird is programmed to produce less melanin and other pigments, or can be caused by poor nutrition, when a birdís diet doesnít include necessary components for pigment production when it molts into new feathers.

In any case, this owl showed up almost on my doorstep on February 27, 2005. I had just returned home after photographing waterfowl on Duluth's waterfront, and as my dog greeted me inside our front door, I happened to glance out our picture window. There, perched on a dead birch, was a large, white bird. I assumed, incorrectly, that it was a Snowy Owl. I mean, what other owl is white? To top it off, there had been reports of a couple Snowy Owls in Duluth, so the assumption seem reasonable.

I excitedly told Mary Jo, my wife, about it, and I went outside to photograph the owl, which was about thirty yards from our deck. While there, using my cell phone, I called Debbie Waters, who is a naturalist at Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. Debbie was at our house almost before I hung up the phone!

As we watched the bird, both Debbie and I began to doubt the initial assessment. "The eyes aren't yellow," Debbie said. "And the beak is, " I replied. Snowy Owls have yellow eyes and a black beak. Hmmm...

Meanwhile, Mary Jo was on the phone with Dave Grosshuesch, an owl researcher and bander, giving him directions to our house. Both Debbie and I told MJ to tell Dave that this wasn't a Snowy Owl, but seemed to be an albino Barred Owl.

Dave and his wife Sarah arrived shortly, and with the help of some mice in a cage, he was able to lure the owl in, where he captured it and banded it. The entire affair was enormously exciting, and after a half hour of being photographed, weighed, measured, and examined for health (the owl was not fat, but not starving, either), MJ released it from our back yard.

So unusual is this bird, that I thought I'd put it up on my website. I hope you enjoy the images of this magnificent critter!



Click on the photo below to go to a gallery of images of this owl. Please remember these are copyrighted images, and can not be used for any purpose without my permission.

Click Here For the White Barred Owl Gallery



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